Molly Ivins, my favorite Texas political reporter, was an irascible, irreverent, funny and very quotable observer of politicians who were basically mental midgets governing the best and the brave.
She stuck labels of “Shrub” and “Dubya” on former President George W. Bush, and also pinned this on him: “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.” She’s the reason for my column title. To improve him, it would have taken a large dose of fertilizer and lots of water.
When global warming and climate change entered the mainstream of political thought back during the Dubya presidency, he set the Republican agenda by denying that such radical science existed when he left a G8 Summit meeting on climate in 2008. Shrub turned to his fellow leaders, raised his fist and defiantly said: “Good-bye from the world’s greatest polluter!”
Neuroscientists say the human brain has developed in three major stages since we slithered out of the green slime 500 million years ago. In the first stage, basically reptilian in nature, our brains concentrated on feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproducing. Only these genes were passed on for the next 380 million years or so.
Then came the second stage about 120 million years ago when a set of new behaviors began to appear in our fellow reptiles. We started to protect and nurture our young, and we even established alliances with other creatures in the struggle to survive. Some of us were no longer northern pikes, stalking our smaller brothers and sisters for nourishment.
The final stage of our brain development took well over a 100 million years to evolve to a “new” brain. The neocortex became the home of our ability to reason and to be self-aware during the Paleolithic Age about 20,000 years ago. We learned to control our instinctive, very primitive passions in the third stage.
No one has mentioned a fourth stage yet.
Humans of today are not much different from those of 17,000 years ago who painted pictures of animals and humans in the caves of Lascaux, France, using blood and fat from animals and clays found in river banks.
Paleolithic men were proficient killers — as we are. They developed technologies to kill animals much larger than they. We have done even better. But even in their ability to kill they developed empathy and respect for the animals they killed for food.
In this category we have done worse. Examine farrowing crates, chicken cages, goose livers destroyed by foie gras advocates and slaughtering houses. Karen Armstrong in her book “Fields of Blood” examines the third stage and the development of religion in a fascinating paragraph:
“Much of what we call ‘religion’ was originally rooted in an acknowledgment of the tragic fact that life depended on the destruction of other creatures; rituals were addressed (animal sacrifices) to helping human beings face up to this insoluble dilemma. Despite their real respect, reverence, and even affection for their prey, however, ancient huntsmen remained dedicated killers. Millennia of fighting large aggressive animals meant these hunting parties became tightly bonded teams that were the seeds of our modern armies, ready to risk everything for the common good and to protect their fellows in moments of danger.”
Over 27 years ago a NASA scientist testified before the U.S. Senate that the agency was 99 percent certain that rising temperatures were caused by the burning of fossil fuels. At that time conservatives and liberals had a bipartisan concern about global warming, with both Republicans and Democrats assuming that 98 percent of climate scientists were probably correct that humans with their abusive use of fossil fuels were adding carbon and greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere at an unsustainable pace.
Then Republicans, using religion and the evangelicals, the murderous muzzle velocity of National Rifle Association executives, the so-called pro-life opponents of abortion rights, added climate change deniers to this dynamic group to gain political power in the 21st century. But the evidence that humans are playing an ever-increasing role in global warming and climate change is overwhelming. But to figure that out, one’s brain must be beyond the second stage.
My God, say the Republicans, Obama has even made a deal on climate change with the Chinese commies! If we take a look at where 3.5 billion people, half of the world’s population, live in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, we should be able to understand how humans are modifying climate.
It is actually just a little corner of the world. China is beginning to suffer the most. A gray blanket of doom hangs over the 21 million people who live in Beijing. The haze that is ever-present almost obscures the buildings across streets.
A person who walks 10 blocks home from work notices that when he removes the mask covering his nose and mouth it is covered with black gunk. Beijing authorities take videos of sunrises in “clean” parts of China and then show them on huge screens around the city — which rarely sees a clean sunrise. Sometimes the screens are not even visible. At high noon, the sun looks more like the moon.
The British School in Beijing for embassy staff has gone through many modifications for the students. It has installed door curtains on every door and 200 ceiling-mounted air purifiers that augment the floor purifiers. Most private schools in Beijing have spent millions installing huge domes over playing fields, tennis courts and playgrounds equipped with air purifiers.
Elementary classes must stay in their schools when the AQD (air quality index) hits 180 on sensors that are installed around the city. High school students may go outside until the index hits 250. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a safe exposure of 25!
On the day of Beijing’s marathon, the AQI was over 400, so most runners dropped out after a few miles with black-covered face masks. Runners said it was like running through bonfire smoke.
Weather reports do not mention pollution. In China it’s called fog. Foreign companies are beginning to pay a 30 percent bonus to employees willing to work in major Chinese cities. Even China’s former health minister says 350,000 to 500,000 deaths are due to pollution each year. A red flag flying from buildings warns people to stay inside.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that an average 18-year-old will spend 40 of his remaining years in ill health due to cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease caused by pollution. Although China is closing 2,000 coal mines next year because they contain high sulfur or ash content, they will continue to open two new coal plants for electric power each week in 2015.
A voyeur can go on the Internet and view the famous punishment of the death of 1,000 cuts used by the Chinese for 1,000 years before it was abolished in 1905. A warning: the pictures are grisly, bloody and beyond barbaric.
Often the flesh was cut off by making multiple slices over a period of time, thus removing parts of the body while the victim was still alive. And the cuts were done by people who were supposedly in the third phase of brain development. The Chinese death by 1,000 cuts has now been changed to death by thousands of breaths for Chinese citizens.
The rest of the developed world is approaching the land of a thousand breaths. The earth has warmed up 1.4 degrees since 1880. The year 2014 is the hottest year on record since temperatures were kept. Nine of the 10 warmest years on have been recorded since 2000.
The temperature of the oceans plays the biggest role in climate change. The warm oceans in 2014 resulted in some of the most destructive storms in the history of modern man. NASA’s Institute for Space Studies reports that from 1951 to 1980, only 1 percent of the planet suffered from weather extremes. Since 1980 such weather extremes rose to ten percent of the planet’s surface.
If nothing is done about the release of carbon and greenhouse gases, about 17 percent of the planet will experience violent weather streams in the next decade. Strange things are happening around the world. The hurricane that killed over 5,000 in the Philippines in 2014 has been described as the largest and strongest in modern history.
At one time it covered much of the Western Pacific. In the Marshall Islands, coral reefs were sinking into the sea or were being overwhelmed by the rising ocean. In Dakar, Senegal, people increased the shore areas damaged by storm surges. The Arctic sea ice continues to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the survival of walruses, polar bears and many other species. Fish that used to be caught off the barrier islands of Virginia and North Carolina have now moved to cooler waters off New England. Australia suffered from ruinous droughts. In France mountain climbers measured the steady decline of Alpine glaciers.
The scientific evidence continues to mount.
Humans and domestic animals now make up 90 percent of biomass on earth. Scientists estimate that in the year 1000 they made up only 2 percent of biomass.
Scientists have determined that a human radiates about 350,000 joules of energy per hour. One electric watt equals one joule per second. Consequently each human’s energy can light a 100-watt bulb. Got that? To put that in general terms, a city composed of 2.25 million humans can keep 22,500 100-watt bulbs burning.
So billions of people contribute their own body heat to climate change. I can’t find anyone who has figured out what over 7 billion humans do to global heat, but population growth certainly has an effect. Just since the NASA scientist testified to the Senate about humans adding to the warming of the globe to the Senate in 1987, we have added almost 2.5 billion 100-watt people to the earth.
Humans with three brain stages slowly evolved about 150,000 years ago, but it took to 1804 to produce 1 billion humans on earth. From then on, we went on a real humping, reproducing tear.
By 1927 we added another billion. By 1960, only 33 years, we added another billion. By 1974 we had 4 billion humans on earth. It took only 13 years to add another billion. In 1999 we hit 6 billion. Now it’s estimated we are approaching 7.5 billion.
That’s a lot of heat, whether body, wood, peat, coal, electric, wind or solar. I think it’s fascinating that before medical science developed vaccines and other disease-inhibiting treatments, humans might have been very lucky to survive.
According to scientists, over 300 million people died of smallpox in the 20th century. Smallpox killed 60 million Europeans and five reigning monarchs in the 18th century. The Spanish brought smallpox to the Aztecs, wiping out 25 percent of their population. In 1967, the World Health Organization reported 2 million died of smallpox. The Spanish flu in 1918-19 killed between 50 to 100 million humans.
My mother lost four siblings in less than two years to that flu. In the 14th century, 60 percent of Europe’s population, or 50 million humans, died from the Black Plague.
When glaciers are about to disappear in Glacier National Park, when glaciers in the Italian Alps are melting and revealing mummified soldiers who died in World War I and their equipment, it’s time Republicans look at the evidence of climate change instead of denying it.
Some Republicans say God would never allow us to ruin the planet he created. Where is their “miraculous” evidence? In the West Virginia mountaintops now blocking rivers in the valleys? In the trout-filled Yellowstone River in Montana now polluted with 50,000 gallons of tar sands crude?
Perhaps the climate change deniers’ brains have not attained the third stage of brain development yet. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has said climate change is “a hoax because some people think they are so powerful that they can change the climate. Man can’t change the climate. Only God can.”
I would remind Inhofe of Isaac Asimov’s statement: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge and evidence faster than society gathers wisdom.”
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